Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10
1. Penn Wood (Record: 12-3. Weeks rated: 4.)
2. Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Record: 15-0. Weeks rated: 4.)
3. Neumann-Goretti (Record: 15-1. Weeks rated: 4.)
4. Archbishop Carroll (Record: 13-2. Weeks rated: 4.)
5. Communications Tech (Record: 12-0. Weeks rated: 4.)
6. Chestnut Hill Academy (Record: 14-3. Weeks rated: 2.)
7. St. Joseph’s Prep (Record: 13-3. Weeks rated: 4.)
8. Strawberry Mansion (Record: 14-0. Weeks rated: 4.)
9. Friends Central (Record: 15-2. Weeks rated: 2.)
10. Malvern Prep (Record: 16-4. Weeks rated: 4.)
Neumann-Goretti is one of the best teams in Pennsylvania and among the best in the country. The Saints could be a fluid, elegant bunch, when they want to be. But you wouldn’t know it. Not by the way the Saints choose to play. They scrap, hustle and play in-your-face defense. Neumann-Goretti will run you into the ground if you give the Saints the chance.
There is a reason for this. The 15-1 Saints are a team haunted by a ghost, a hovering specter that whispers into their collective conscience what could happen when they don’t play full-throttle.
Neumann-Goretti is lugged down by a what-if in 2010 that it’s trying to shake. The Saints, everyone’s favorite to win the PIAA Class AAA state championship, are plagued by the memory that they blew a golden opportunity last year to be state champions.
There is just no hiding the edge they play with this year. It couldn’t have been more palpable than in the 96-73 thumping on Jan. 13 that the Saints gave Archbishop Carroll, Neumann-Goretti’s nemesis that whacked the Saints out of the playoffs last year in the state quarterfinals.
"We just got caught in that game last year and having most of those guys back, and having that bond back, it’s a good thing to go on the floor with," Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. "It’s funny how everyone forgets how well we played last year. We won 26 of 29 games and we won the Catholic League championship. But all anyone wants to remember is the Carroll game. I give them credit for what they did. They're a good team. But I honestly think what’s driving my guys most is that they took how good they were for granted."
This season, Arrigale didn’t have to say much to work his team up for that Carroll rematch.
"I told coach Carl before the Carroll game that I wanted to beat Carroll by 50 and I wanted to score 100 points; that game was really important to us," said Saints point guard Tyreek Duren, who is averaging 16 points and seven assists a game and is headed to La Salle to play his college ball. "I wanted to stay in the game, the whole game. We’ll play them again, like we did last year. That was just like a bad game. We got slowed down that game, slowed, I’ll say, by things beyond our control.
"This is definitely a revenge year. Coach Carl keeps telling us we have to get up for every game, because everyone is going to give us their best shot. It is an all-or-nothing year for us, and our team is made up of mostly seniors. We won’t get this chance again. It’s another reason why no one wants to lose. We won’t blame it on anyone else; each one on this team will blame themselves. It’s how much of a team we are. The rest of our games could be blowouts, and I really don’t think there is anyone who could compete with us. If you're in our way, you better move, because there’s no stopping us this year."
With Duren, Wake Forest-bound Tony Chennault and Rider-bound Danny Stewart, the Saints are among the best teams in the very-loaded Southeastern Pennsylvania area, which also includes state powerhouses Plymouth-Whitemarsh and defending PIAA Class AAAA (large-school) state champion Penn Wood, which lost to Neumann-Goretti in a nonleague game last season.
This season, Nuemann-Goretti’s lone loss came to explosive Yates (Houston, Texas), 97-96, on Dec. 22. It’s a Yates team, by the way, that’s scored as many as 170 points in a single game this season. Otherwise, no Philadelphia-area team has come remotely close to the Saints. By the way they’re playing, no team in the state may. Then again, it’s where the Saints left off last season.
"We felt we should have won the state title last year; we came out with the wrong attitude and we learned a big lesson last year, and that’s you have to bring it every game and every practice," Stewart said. "We won’t lose the rest of the year. I have no problem saying that. We just have something to prove. There are still doubts that we’re not that good.
"I still feel that last loss to Carroll. I think we all do. We just have to handle our business the rest of this year."
Arrigale knows there is unfinished business ahead. He might not need the big-speech time. "We still think we were the best team last year," Arrigale said. "We beat Penn Wood, the Class AAAA state champion, and this group sees something they didn’t accomplish. I love the attitude we have. I don’t want them to lose this edge, not for a minute."
At this rate, it seems as if Arrigale and the Saints might not lose it for a second.
Joseph Santoliquito covers high schools for the Philadelphia Daily News and is a contributor to MaxPreps.com. He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.